Arsenal 2 Chelsea 0
Stephen Hughes' first half double continued Chelsea's Highbury hoodoo after
Manchester United proved they can win even when they only draw - and the rest
showed they don't really want to be champions.
Ruud Gullit had brought his Blues across London desperate to end that
appalling record of just one win in their previous 14 visits.
But like Blackburn and Liverpool already this weekend, Chelsea tripped up when
given the perfect opportunity to make the champions pay for their Old Trafford
failing as they subsided woefully to their eighth league defeat of the campaign.
Their inability to keep their heads after referee Dermot Gallagher had failed
to send off Steve Bould for a clear "professional foul" on Luca Vialli surely
showed why the Premiership crown will not finish in West London.
Arsenal, now a point behind the second-placed Blues with a game in hand after
an 11 games all-competition unbeaten run, can justly claim to be right back in
the title mix, perhaps the only real contenders to the Old Trafford side.
Yet Alex Ferguson will be the happiest man of all after his side somehow
managed to extend their advantage over the weekend despite being held at home by
The prize was there for Chelsea to grasp, although with that dreadful Highbury
record behind them the last thing they needed was to give away a goal from
Arsenal's first real attack.
But that was precisely what happened. When Dennis Bergkamp flicked on in the
fourth minute, Leboeuf had all the time he needed to clear, before not one, but
two miskicks let in Nicolas Anelka.
Ed De Goey did well to block the Frenchman's first shot, as the ball bounced
on, although when Laurent Charvet hacked clear to Hughes the danger looked
Yet the young midfielder, whose only other goal this season had come in the
Coca-Cola meeting with the Blues, did not hesitate as he unleashed a thumping
first-time left-footer from 22 yards that threaded the eye of the needle to
flash into the net.
Chelsea, with Gianfranco Zola again only a substitute, were rocked, once again
the authors of their own misfortune, yet they had reason to feel the fates were
conspiring against them in the 12th minute.
Emmanuel Petit's poor header -his only mistake of an otherwise immaculate game
- sent Vialli charging away, and when Bould grabbed hold of the Italian's shirt
collar to haul him to the ground Mr Gallagher appeared to have no option.
But the card was yellow, not red, Chelsea were furious, and when Leboeuf's
free-kick was deflected wide and Charvet's header from the resulting corner was
held by Alex Manninger, all the bad blood that had built up in September's
Stamford Bridge meeting spilled over again.
Wenger had memorably described parts of that match as "really vicious" and
what we got next was another 20 minutes of midfield mayhem, the ball often
utterly peripheral to events, as Vialli, Mark Hughes and Dennis Wise took out
their frustrations on anybody they could find.
Arsenal were no shrinking violets either, Nigel Winterburn standing his corner
more fiercely than most and Mr Gallagher's cards were in regular use.
The surprise was that only the excellent Ray Parlour - who must have impressed
the watching Glenn Hoddle - Vialli and Leboeuf were cautioned. It could, should,
have been more.
Despite their evident unhappiness, Chelsea were holding their own, especially
after Wise moved inside from the left to confront Petit, although failing to
Arsenal, with Ian Wright left on the bench, had offered even less, but from
their only other attack of the half, three minutes from the break, they doubled
Eddie Newton brought down Anelka on the Chelsea left, and when Bergkamp
floated over the Blues compounded the felony by failing to pick up either Bould
or Tony Adams.
Adams it was who nodded down and with Leboeuf, Roberto Di Matteo and DeGoey
all slow to react, Hughes stooped to conquer with a headed finish.
Now it was a real mountain, one Chelsea never really looked like climbing,
although Gullit tried to change the course of events by pulling off thevastly
unimpressive Dan Petrescu, sending on Danny Granville and reverting to a back
It did not make them appear any more solid, and twice, first from Parlour and
then from Gilles Grimandi, Anelka ran away free, De Goey saving histeam on both
Granville's header wide and a speculative - and far from close - volley
byHughes was the sum total of Chelsea's efforts at the other end before Vialli
was replaced by Zola in the 63rd minute.
All Chelsea could do was continue to exact physical retribution for theearlier
slights, Hughes and Di Matteo rightly, if belatedly, falling foul of the man in
Wright and Lee Dixon entered the fray at the expense of Grimandi and Anelka
for the final 20 minutes, and Marc Overmars also departed before the end, David
Platt getting a run-out.
But this was a game long since settled, Chelsea never showing any conviction
that they felt they could find a way back into proceedings, although the
nastiness remained to the very bitter end, with Bergkamp booked for dumping
Three out of three for the Gunners, the fourth to come soon.
Chelsea may start having an inferiority complex. In title terms, they should
Arsenal: Manninger, Winterburn, Bould, Adams, Anelka (Wright 69),
Bergkamp, Overmars (Platt 76), Parlour, Petit,
Grimandi (Dixon 69), Hughes.
Subs Not Used: Luis Boa Morte, Lukic.
Booked: Bould, Parlour, Bergkamp.
Goals: Hughes 4, 42.
Chelsea: De Goey, Petrescu (Granville 46), Leboeuf,
Vialli (Zola 62), M. Hughes, Wise, Duberry, Le Saux, Di Matteo,
Newton (Flo 80), Chalvet.
Subs Not Used: Hitchcock, P. Hughes.
Booked: Vialli, Leboeuf, Wise, Di Matteo.
Ref: D J Gallagher (Banbury).